Sunday, April 5th, 2009...5:00 am

The Western Painted Lady Butterfly


A reader of TheGardenLady blog wrote this column about an exciting happening in California on Sat., March 28, 2009.

If we were questioning the calendar, residents in the Bay Area of California knew for certain that Spring had arrived on Saturday, March 28. By late morning, it was well into the 70s and supposedly some thermometers hit low-80s mid-day. The balmy weather, blue skies, and gentle breeze sparked our mass exodus from behind TVs to local parks where all were eager to hit the hiking trails on the East Bay hills. But aside from the hoards of people on the trails, it was for the most part a typical day; while unseasonably warm it was the kind of day that we Northern Californians expect for the next 8 months.

The day became atypical, though, during the drive home; after descending from the hills and returning to the San Fernando Valley my wife and I literally came face-to-face with another mass migration that also marked the start of Spring. Driving southeast on Route 880-the main corridor between Oakland and San Jose-hundreds of fluttering creatures floated over our car’s front windshield. At 70 miles per hour, it was difficult to discern what these creatures, which were headed in the opposite direction, could be. Flying in groups of two or three about ten feet off the ground, they were high enough in the sky to avoid a fate as road kill. While the winds of passing vehicles occasionally swept them off course, they were obviously committed to continuing north.

When we finally arrived home in San Jose, we were still surrounded by this extraordinary flurry of insects. They were large enough and flying fast enough to be small birds, but their flight pattern was too erratic to be classified so. Finally, one of them made a rare pit stop on the flowering verbena shrub that lines the parking lot. Upon closer inspection, we happily identified the creature as a butterfly.

Excitedly, we quickly searched for spots where more of these special insects might be stopped for a sip of nectar. First we went to our pool, which is partially covered by a canopy of wisteria; “clearly this must be butterfly paradise” we thought, but none could be found. Then we walked through the yard; again, not a butterfly in sight. Finally, we returned to the asphalt environs of parking lots and roads where in twos and threes, the bugs were making their way north (see here). We tracked them to a flowering pear tree, which the few weary butterflies picked as a resting place. Luckily, the balcony of our neighbor’s apartment overlooks the tree, so we quickly ran up the stairs where we were in an Eden-like setting with dozens of deep orange with black and white-spotted winged butterflies (see here) on white blossoms. It was there where we were able to snap the photographs.





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